The Refugees in Towns (RIT) project explores the experience of refugees and the towns into which they move to understand immigrant integration and influence policymakers’ approaches to integration. We seek to enable towns to become immigrant- and refugee-friendly urban spaces that take full advantage of the benefits brought by refugees and find ways to manage the inevitable challenges of immigration integration.

We focus on the ‘ground-up’ experience of hosting communities in towns or neighborhoods within large cities and aim to achieve three outcomes:

  1. Increase our understanding of integration by refining existing theories
  2. Contribute to narratives of the ways in which urban communities—refugees and hosts—co-exist
  3. Provide guidance and information for community leaders, NGOs, and local government officials in order to shape local policy

To achieve these outcomes, the project has two main activities (see the “Project Activities” tab for more details):

  1. Documenting urban change and the experience of refugees and hosts by commissioning and collecting case studies in: (1) North American towns (U.S. and Canada) where refugees are resettled, and (2) Urban areas in transit countries (such as Libya, Mexico or Greece) or countries of first asylum (such as Sudan, Lebanon or Turkey)
  2. Engaging policymakers and community leaders through town visits, workshops, and a conference, to identify research needs in their communities and encourage dialogue on integration efforts

These activities are the basis of our research, and our findings. We hope that our recommendations will shape policies on the integration of refugees at the local level.

The U.S. is currently seeing a shift in its refugee policy through travel bans and the suspension of parts of the refugee program. Towns across the country are responding in different ways. Some are resisting the changes by declaring themselves to be “sanctuary cities” or other methods. Others are supporting the bans and policy changes. These political developments at the federal and local levels are bound to affect the integration experience of newly arrived and longstanding refugees and asylum seekers.

In this period of rapid change, it is more important than ever that we understand how refugees and their local hosts interact. This project contributes to a greater understanding of this interaction through a balanced view of the experiences of integration in the U.S. and around the world.

The RIT project explores three sets of questions that give us insight into how different groups of refugees settle in a town (or urban sub-area), how their experience changes over time, and how the town has been impacted and responded over time.

Mapping the refugee population

  1. What is the distribution and size of different refugee nationalities in the town?
  2. How has the refugee population changed over time—has there been movement (relocation) from other parts of the country?
  3. Are refugees clustered in specific areas, or distributed evenly throughout the city? Why does this pattern occur?

The refugee experience

  1. Livelihoods and income: What are refugees’ sources of income and support (local and transnational)? What are their financial obligations–remittances to home countries? What are their debts (smugglers, IOM)?
  2. Political organization: Have refugees become politically active? What kinds of mobilization have occurred? What kinds of social and political networks have emerged?
  3. Integration: How do refugees define integration? How do refugees view their integration experience in the town? What factors do they consider important in enabling or preventing integration?
  4. Refugee attitudes about the future: How do refugees see their futures? What do they want for their children? Do they plan to stay, go elsewhere, or return home? Has there been any return movement?
  5. Social networks: What are refugees’ social networks (i.e. connections to refugees in other towns and countries)? How do these connections evolve?

The urban impact

  1. What economic impact (if any) does the refugee community have on the town (employment, business creation, trade links)? Have the refugees affected the job market or housing market? Where do the refugees work?
  2. What has been the social and political impact? How have access to or quality of health services and schools been affected? How do locals perceive the refugees?
  3. What has been the impact on governance? How has the town government responded?

These three broad investigative areas guide the case studies. We encourage other themes or avenues of investigation depending on the researcher’s interests and the research needs of the town. We encourage all RIT researchers to use the methodology discussed in the “Guide for Researchers” tab.  All researchers planning to conduct a RIT case study should contact the RIT Project team (see the “Join the Study” tab) before they begin.

Documenting Urban Change and the Experience of Refugees

The RIT project both commissions and collects independently researched case studies. These cases document urban changes and the experience of the refugees in order to build a theory of integration. RIT cases are conducted in:

  • North American towns (U.S. and Canada) where refugees are resettled, and
  • Urban areas in transit countries (such as Libya, Mexico or Greece) or countries of first asylum (such as Sudan, Lebanon or Turkey).

Cases include desk and field research to present findings in a succinct and accessible way. Where appropriate, cases also provide recommendations to local policymakers.

Commissioned studies

Researchers develop the cases, based on contacts in towns and their experiences in those towns. Each case presents a different angle based on the community. We encourage people living and working in a town that has experienced a refugee influx are encouraged to develop a case study (see the “Join the Study” tab for more details).

The RIT project draws on a range of data and methods to develop the case studies, combining an analysis of existing data with new data collection. The unique approach that each case study takes allows for a diversity of viewpoints to the project and presents voices that may not be heard otherwise. See the “Guide for Researchers” for more information about our methodology.

Creating a database of case studies

We review the case studies submitted to the project then add them to the RIT database on the project’s website. We also curate case studies from other projects and researchers in order to create a resource hub for information on integration and the varied experiences of refugees and the towns into which they move.

Engaging Policymakers and Community Leaders

The RIT project engages in “localized research” to address issues that are relevant and important to the communities in which we work. Therefore, as part of the process, researchers involve local policymakers and other relevant actors to shape the research questions, keep them apprised of progress, and review findings.

A key event engaging policymakers will be held in fall 2017. We are organizing a conference of mayors from across New England to discuss the integration of refugees in their towns and what integration means in different contexts. The purpose of the conference is to provide mutual support, and share experience and understanding about how towns can work together to maximize refugee integration and town benefit.

The following RIT projects are currently underway.

In the U.S.:

  • Augusta, ME: understanding integration of refugees in the town to inform the creation of a community center and culinary hub
  • Austin, TX: study of the well-being and integration of Syrian refugees
  • Lowell and Lynn, MA


  • Delhi, India: understanding refugees’ emotional connection to their homeland through food
  • Kerala, India: shifting gender norms that result from the migration of nurses
  • Istanbul, Turkey: role of agency in young refugee women’s social capital
  • Tripoli, Lebanon: urban poverty due to the influx of Syrian refugees

Syrian Refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon

Lebanon has experienced an influx of 1.5 million Syrians since 2011, representing almost a quarter of its population. The challenges this influx creates have been particularly intense in Tripoli―Lebanon’s second largest city and the urban center of the northern governorate. This case study explores how the Syrian influx has affected Tripoli, with a focus on urban poverty.


The RIT methodology ensures that each case study focuses on key questions, is conducted through partnership or teams, and that the findings are policy-oriented and of use to both practitioners and academics.

The RIT project is based on the principle of localized research, in which case studies are developed primarily by researchers who live or work in (or are otherwise very familiar with) the town they are researching.  In particular, the research seeks to draw out the voices of those typically not heard among the refugees and host population.

For the purpose of the RIT Project, a case study is an in-depth study of a town or urban area that focuses on understanding the barriers or enablers of refugee integration by exploring the interaction of the native and refugee populations. The case study must begin with clearly stated research questions, which are explored using the following mixed methods of data collection.

Before you start: IRB

The RIT Project is based at Tufts University, which means all case studies must be approved by the Tufts Institutional Review Board (IRB) before any field research begins. Contact the RIT Project Manager (see “Join the Study” tab), who will help you navigate this process.

Mixed Methods Research

The case study should be based on a range of data and methods, including the analysis of existing data where such data exist, and new data collection. Generally, mixed methods research is the combined use of qualitative and quantitative research methods. However, for the purposes of the RIT case studies it is unlikely that you, the researcher, will have the time and resources to conduct a proper survey. Instead, you should try to identify other survey data relevant to the town (collected perhaps by other researchers or agencies) and use these data to buttress your own data collection, which is likely to be qualitative in nature.

Existing Quantitative Data and Maps


For the mapping exercise (No. 1 research area above), you should create a map of the town or designated urban area on which you are focusing, showing where refugee groups live, and whether they live in clusters (e.g. Somalis often live near each other in the same neighborhood) or are distributed throughout.

Maps can be taken from Google or other sources. Population data (and maps) can often be found in town archives,  working with the municipality, library, or statistics office.

Quantitative data

Surveys conducted by other researchers can be useful sources of information. Where survey data is publicly available (such as surveys conducted by state or town municipal agencies, or international organizations such as the World Bank or UNHCR) the researcher can access these data fairly easily (they are often online). Surveys conducted by an independent researcher can be more difficult to access, and will require you to make contact with the researcher, establish trust, and request permission to see and use his/her data. Building such a relationship can take time and trouble, but is worth the effort. It might even be productive to ask the survey researcher to team up with you to work on the case together.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative research takes the form of participant observation, key informant (in-depth) interviews, and interviews with the population of interest. Qualitative research can also be done using focus group discussions, however these need to be carefully designed and usually require more than one researcher to carry them out successfully.

Participant Observation

Participant Observation (PO) is a method of data collection in which the researcher has established rapport with both the refugee and host communities and can move freely within and between them. The researcher gathers data through unobtrusive methods including observation, natural conversations, and interviews. The researcher should have an open, nonjudgmental attitude, be interested in learning about the different experiences and attitudes of all members of the communities, and be a careful observer and good listener. (See Kawulich, Barbara B: Participant Observation as a Data Collection Method.) The researcher can be a member of either the refugee or host community, but should seek to become familiar to both groups.

Key informant interviews

Key informant (KI) interviews are qualitative in-depth interviews with people who know what is going on in the community and can provide useful information about specific topics or organizations. KIs include a wide range of people, including community leaders, agency staff, business people, government officials, and service professionals (e.g. teachers or health providers).

The difference between a KI interview and an in-depth interview with non-KIs, is that a KI does not speak about him/herself, but rather about the community, organization, or institution. So, whereas you might ask a refugee about his or her personal experience, you will ask a KI about broader patterns and trends, or about the history of a community, etc.

Writing up your case

The qualitative data obtained through observation and interviews are written up, preferably as soon after an interview or observation as possible and usually on a daily basis. These field notes then become the data which will help answer the research questions structuring the case study.

The case study is intended to provide insight and understanding from your (insider) perspective, and your voice and views should come through. You can use the field data as a source of anecdotes or illustrative quotes, or in any way you see fit.

The length of the case study should be 7-15 pages. You can present the findings in creative ways that reflect the voices of the local community. The use of visual media is greatly encouraged! For more on presenting your findings, please contact us at the RIT Project.

Your audience

The case study has two goals, one academic and one policy-oriented:

  • Our academic goal is to contribute to a theory of integration, by building our understanding of the urban displacement experience (for both displaced and hosts). The case study provides one building block of this theory.
  • Our policy goal is to provide guidance and information for urban community leaders, NGOs, and local government officials. This information is intended to help them shape their towns as refugee-friendly urban spaces that take full advantage of the benefits brought by refugees and find ways to manage the challenges of integration. The recommendations we put forward in the case studies, based on localized and robust research, will shape policies on the integration of refugees.

You should decide which audience you are trying to reach (mainly), and write your report accordingly. For additional guidance on writing the report, we encourage you to team up with a Tufts graduate student and to work with the RIT team.

Working with research partners and co-authors

We recommend that, wherever possible, local researchers partner with Tufts graduate students to produce a case. Such partnerships create mutual benefits: graduate students help local researchers to develop the methods, write the case, and support the administration of the research (such as IRB) at Tufts, while local researchers help graduate students gain local insight and access to the community and local networks.

If you are a refugee, aid worker or resident in a town that has experienced a refugee influx, we encourage you to author a case study. Please refer to the “Guide for Researchers” tab for more details about conducting a case study with us.

The RIT Project is based at the Feinstein International Center and is headed by Karen Jacobsen. The project manager is Charles Simpson.

For more information contact: Karen Jacobsen at

The advisory group provides technical and substantive advice on case studies, facilitates contacts in communities, and helps us engage with policymakers.

Members of the advisory board are: Adam Saltsman (Worcester State University); Graeme Rodgers (International Rescue Committee); Rasha Mikhael (New American Center); Catherine Hébert (Mango Films) and Amy Slaughter (RefugePoint).